DULUTH, GA - In a midweek contest of high importance for the hosting Gladiators, Atlanta saddled Orlando with a 5-1 blowout victory less than a week after being on the receiving end of the same score line less than a week ago in central Florida. Nick Bligh, Matt Lane and Filip Pyrochta led the way with multi-point nights as the Glads’ offense ignited while they shut down the high-powered Solar Bears’ attack.
Atlanta United FC stars Eric Remedi, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Hector "Tito" Villalba dropped the ceremonial puck before the game, and the Gladiators hoped to jump on their opponent like their soccer counterparts. Nick Bligh took an early shot on Orlando netminder Clint Windsor from neutral ice that was saved, but not fully collected by the goalie. The rebound was poked beyond the reach of the defense and gave Atlanta an early advantage just 1:20 into the contest.
In the second frame, Orlando began to find their offensive rhythm and eventually capitalized. After a scrum in front of Sean Bonar's net, the puck squirted out to Zach Frye on the edge of the crease. He buried his chance in the top of the net to level the game at one with 11:36 to play in the middle frame.
Atlanta did not wait long to answer the surrendered goal. Jack Stander and Zach Magwood twirled a puck to Zach Malatesta at the blue line before a long-range blast bested Windsor to regain Atlanta's lead just two minutes after conceding. The stifling Gladiator defense continued to befuddle the Bears into the third period.
It was another power play opportunity that provided Atlanta a chance for separation. Joel Messner, playing in his first game after reassignment from Providence, skittered a puck behind the net for Derek Nesbitt. The most tenured Gladiator found a brand new one in Brady Fleurent on the edge of Windor's goal crease. His one-timer found the back of the net to extend Atlanta's lead to two with less than five minutes into the final frame with the Maine native’s first pro goal.
The Gladiators erased any chance of a Solar Bear rally with a clinic in precision passing. Matt Lane started the process when he found Bligh in the offensive zone. The scorer of the first goal found Olivier Galipeau before dishing back to Lane for a quick chance in front of the net. The Rochester, NY native buried the chance to increase the score to 4-1 with 6:35 to play.
Justin MacDonald's empty net goal was a cherry on top of the night to give Atlanta the 5-1 victory. Bonar notched his second assist on the season with a helper on the goal that sealed the Gladiators win.
The win ties the Gladiators with South Carolina for the fourth playoff position in the South Division at 70 points with two games in hand. They stand just two points behind Jacksonville in the third playoff position. Atlanta returns to action this weekend as they take on the aforementioned Icemen Friday and Saturday night in Jacksonville before squaring off with the Stingrays on Sunday afternoon in North Charleston, SC.
The Gladiators wrap up their regular season home slate when they host South Carolina on Sunday, April 7th at 3:05 PM for Fan Appreciation Day. Get your tickets today at atlantagladiators.com!